South Korea Looks to Secure Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

kpride, Dec. 19, 2014, 10:49 a.m.

The U.S. and Cuba have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after 53 years of hostility, spurring hopes that Seoul can also soon establish proper ties with the Caribbean nation.  A Foreign Ministry official said Thursday, "Cuba has been reluctant to establish diplomatic relations with South Korea, which is a U.S. ally, as it was mindful of its ties with North Korea. Now that the biggest obstacle has been removed, Cuba is likely to be more amenable."

South Korea is one of only three countries yet to forge diplomatic ties with Cuba besides the U.S. and Israel.  Cuba recognized South Korea as a sovereign country in 1949 and even sent troops to fight against North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. But in 1960 after Fidel Castro stepped into power following a communist revolution, Havana formed diplomatic ties with North Korea and drifted further and further away from the South. 

In 1986, Castro visited Pyongyang and met nation founder Kim Il-sung there.  But Seoul and Havana continued to expand economic and cultural exchanges. South Korean cars and home appliances have been exported to Cuba via a third country since the mid-1990s, and in 2011, bilateral trade surpassed US$100 million. 

As a result, South Korea became Cuba’s third-largest trading partner in Asia following China and Vietnam. And around 5,000 South Korean tourists visit Cuba each year. South Korean TV dramas have grown immensely popular in Cuba as well. 

"It is actually strange that the two countries have yet to form diplomatic ties," a government official here admitted.

The government plans to begin talks with Cuba next year to form full diplomatic ties. "In the case of former Eastern bloc countries, we first opened a consular office or diplomatic mission, but we should be able to skip this step and form full diplomatic ties with Cuba straight away," the government official said.  Seoul is hopeful that closer ties between Cuba and South Korea would have a positive impact on prompting North Korean reforms. 

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